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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More Kids Win Opportunity Scholarships, More Kids Need Bonehead Math

I'm having trouble reconciling these two news reports about South Dakota's education system. First the bad news:

Students needing remedial courses in math and English were on the increase again last year at South Dakota’s public universities after several years of improvement, according to a report delivered Wednesday to the South Dakota Board of Regents.

...Twenty-nine percent of the 2,736 university freshman students who graduated high school in 2009 were placed in at least one remedial course because their ACT English scores were below 18 or their ACT math scores were below 20.

...The numbers of students needing one or both of the remedial courses had gradually declined earlier this decade, reaching lows in 2007 of 26 percent overall, nine percent in English and 21 percent in math.

They went back up across the board for 2008 and again in 2009 [Bob Mercer, "More Frosh Need Remedial Courses at State's Colleges," Pierre Capital Journal, 2010.10.15].

Now the good news:

A state-funded merit scholarship supports nearly 350 more South Dakota college freshmen this fall than when the program first started in 2004. Preliminary data report a total of 1,176 incoming freshmen received the Opportunity Scholarship this fall, a 42 percent increase since the first 828 students entered six years ago.

...The 1,176 new Opportunity Scholarship recipients this fall surpasses the all-time high of 1,159 previously set in 2008 ["More Students Qualifying for Opportunity Scholarship," South Dakota state press release, 2010.10.12].

Hmm... more students are successfully completing the rigorous college-prep curriculum required to win the Opportunity Scholarship, yet a large percentage of students, most of them from the very same high South Dakota schools cranking out those high achievers, don't know enough to pass freshman comp and algebra.

What's going on here? Aren't our high schools teaching kids the basic grammar, composition, and math skills they need to survive their 101s at the U? Are we inflating grades to make the kids feel good... and keep them eligible for the basketball team? Are the universities letting kids in who aren't college-ready, just to grab more tuition dollars?

Readers, your intellectual efforts to resolve this apparent contradiction are welcome!


  1. An educator who I trust says the biggest mistake we ever did was start so many AP classes.

    In short, kids perform to expectation. Raise expectation and you get better results. Lower expectations and you get worse results.

    1) AP implies certain kids are "dumber" and lessens their effort and expectations.

    2) Better students need less motivation, learn outside of the classroom. And, within a semester of college level math, AP graduates are virtually indistinguishable from non-AP students who apply themselves in college.

    In short, the performance of high performing students doesn't come down as much with lower performing students in the class as lower performing students drop when no longer side-by-side high performing students.

    This educator is a 40 year math teacher. She says the best students in her AP course are barely better prepared for college curriculum than they were when there were no AP courses. But, her non-AP students are signficantly less prepared for their next step.

    A corollary to her theory is AP classes are demanded by parents who have a desire for their child to be treated specially. These children already have advantages and parents are demanding more for their children without regard to other students.

    Related to the corrolary is parents confuse aptitude with desire and combine it with protecting their child's GPA. They think their child who hasn't performed in math "can't get it" and demand dumby math for them. When the reality is the student just worked harder where they were interested. This teacher says high school is about expanding both the students vision of what they believe is possible to learn and give them broad skill sets.

    In short, in this teacher's opinion, the emphasis on AP courses helps the advantaged and hurts the disadvantaged.

    Sidenote: This teacher doesn't think we need more money in education. We need a better allocation of the money available. For instance (granted she is a high school teacher), she thinks we subsidize college degrees too much at the expense of high school. A college education is the best investment a family/student can make regardless of the cost. Similarly, a highly educated high school graduate is the best investment a community can make.

  2. Calculators. They need to be banned.


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